Promising Practices Program

Administering Organization

University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Program Name

Healthy Transitions

Program Objectives and Unique Needs Addressed

Healing Transitions (HT) offers research based learning and service opportunities for students and faculty to work alongside the refugee community and families of Knoxville, to study predisposing conditions and the diverse cultures of newly arriving refugees. HT requires a multidisciplinary, multi-interventional approach to address the cultural, historical, and political issues that accompany resettlement work.  Specific program areas have been developed from this initial research base.

The overall objectives include the following:

  • To provide local community service-learning and community based research opportunities for multi-disciplinary students to learn the value of integrating multiple perspectives (both academic and community).
  • To assess healthy refugee adaptation to the dominant culture by examining the impact of social/contextual factors such as integration, acculturation, poverty, marital status, social support, and impact of trauma.
  • To conduct interviews establishing perceived needs and level of cultural competency among individuals who relate directly with the refugee population in Knoxville, Tennessee.
  • To establish an effective intervention model for newly arriving refugees to promote positive integration experiences within the family and the broader environment.
  • To develop training interventions based on initial needs assessment data for all community leaders, gatekeepers, volunteers and individuals who relate directly with the refugee population in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Program Description

The Healing Transitions project aims to assess short- and long-term transition needs of refugees in Knoxville. Currently, Knoxville hosts nearly one thousand adults and children who came to the U.S. with refugee status, the most recent being Burundian refugees resettled out of Tanzanian camps. The local resettlement agency, Bridge Resettlement Services Inc., provides initial basic support and transition training to incoming refugees.

Five focus group interviews have been conducted with 39 adult Burundian men and women. The population of interest is specific to the youth resettlement experience, but also includes refugee parents, particularly mothers.

Based on the results of this community based research, the following programs have been developed:

  1. Prejudice Reduction & Cultural Competency Education: Early research on the project has revealed that the number of families arriving in Knoxville far exceeds the resources available for healthy transitions. The influx of refugees demands the implementation of new culturally responsive and relevant practices across community agencies, the establishment of an infrastructure with reliable and consistent resources, and prejudice reduction and cultural competency education across the community. Based on these findings, the students on the HT research team developed a workshop that includes a series of culturally relevant activities that address issues of resettlement, cultural expectations in the United States, prejudicial treatment of families with refugee status, and intervention strategies in sponsorship of and communication with arriving families. In 2008-2009, the students presented this workshop to service clubs at two local high schools and 11th and 12th graders at a local residential school, and coordinated an inter-cultural learning exchange with one of the service clubs and a group of Burundian children.
  2. Kuvura Amajwi / Healing Voices Program: Research with refugees has revealed that parental adaptation in resettlement influences a child's adaptation to school and community. Some of the families arriving in Knoxville have low literacy skills, and this presents challenges during transition when even translated materials cannot be understood. Knowing these issues in literacy, how important healthy family adaptation is, and the relationship between parental transition and children's transition, the team generated creative ways to transmit knowledge about transportation, money, health and nutrition in the United States. Students addressed the navigation of grocery store and pharmacy spaces and food and medicinal selections by recording descriptions and information in their native Kirundi language on MP3 players. They gave the players to arriving families when they went to community orientations and field trips to the grocery store.
  3. Knox Kicks: Kickin’ It Across the Globe: Important factors in refugee resettlement include integration and socialization with the dominant cultural community as well as the resettling community. Soccer (or “football”) was identified by sponsors as a sport that many children wanted to play in the United States. Non-competitive sport seemed like an area in which multiple community relationships could develop. In April 2009, the HT team with Sport 4 Peace, the Lady Vols Soccer Team, and generous community partners held a two day soccer camp for children with refugee status. The camp temporarily dismantled community isolation and allowed the Burundian community to come together with U.T. students and faculty, the Lady Vols Soccer Team and local volunteers to learn new skills, make new friendships, and play “football.”
  4. Family Stabilization Committee: In the spring of 2009, a Family Stabilization Committee was formed in response to family stress within the community as well as psychological stress related to in-country trauma the families may have experienced, compounded by their own migration experiences. This committee is comprised of Bridge Refugee Services, a psychologist at the local Federally Qualified Health Center, a pastor from a local African church, a Burundian representative for the community, an Educational Psychologist, a member of the local public health department, and Professors Denise Bates and Allison Anders. This initial working group has convened to develop a safety net for the families who are currently in the community, as well as those who are continuing to arrive.
  5. Burundian Organization: As a result of the community based participatory effort, the Burundian community has been encouraged to organize and take responsibility for their own wellness and sustainability. As of Summer 2009, ten individuals have been elected into leadership by the Burundian community to begin the development of an African non-profit. This organization will assist existing and newly arriving families with the support that they need to do well in their new environments. This was quite a long, arduous process; however, there is much promise when the community takes the lead in their own success. As the Burundians find success and sustainability, they will transition into the community needing very little assistance from others, but instead, emerge as leaders in the dominant community.

Resource Materials Used in Program

  • Digital Audio recorders for focus groups and individual interviews
  • MP3 players with simple controls for Kuvura Amajwi / Healing Voices Program. Modules developed for Healing Voices include:
  1. Over the Counter Medications Safety (developed by HT)
  2. What to Do When Your Child Gets Sick (developed by HT)
  3. Healthy Eating, Healthy Living in the United States: A Nutrition Education Flip Chart (U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants)
  4. Raising Children in a New Country: An Illustrated Handbook (BRYCS)
  • Visual training/education materials translated for the MP3 modules
  • Donations of soccer supplies for 100 children for the Kickin' It Across the Globe (entirely funded by donations)

Groups Served by Program

At present, Healing Transitions is serving Burundian refugees resettled in the Knoxville, TN, community. Commonly referred to as the “1972 Burundians,” this group of Burundian refugees fled their country in 1972 due to ethnic violence perpetrated by a Tutsi dominated government. Between May and August of 1972, United Nations agencies reported that 200,000 Hutu Burundians were killed and 150,000 more fled to Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Rwanda, where they have been living in refugee camps for 37 years. Many of the Burundians living in these camps today were not born in Burundi or they were only small children when they left their country. Beginning in 2000, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) began to resettle Burundians, especially those living in the Tanzanian refugee camps into countries such as the United States and Australia.

Program Funding

The University of Tennessee, College of Education, Health and Human Sciences, has funded the seed grants to launch this program.

Program Staffing and Required Staff Training

The program was founded in 2008 by Dr. Denise Bates, Programs in Public Health, and Dr. Allison Anders, Cultural Studies in Educational Foundations at the University of Tennessee. By the summer term of 2009, nine graduate students from seven different academic programs volunteered to participate in the project in fulfillment of their service-learning requirements. Since that time, core participation on the HT team has grown to twelve.

The research team meets once a week during the semester for a minimum of three hours, preparing students for the community based research. The teaching sessions listed below were presented by the multidisciplinary faculty researchers, guest speakers, and by experts from the University of Tennessee during scheduled on-campus trainings. Each of these trainings sessions include one to two hours of formal training, followed by time dedicated to open discussions of weekly progress, problems, and successes. These discussion sessions have evolved into peer-teaching opportunities through which students become a research team “expert” on various subjects and are prepared for this work upon graduation.

The teaching sessions are listed below:

  • Week 1: Service learning constructs/Goals & Objectives Setting
  • Week 2: Cultural Competency/Content Training
  • Week 3: Psychosocial Effects of Trauma
  • Week 4:The Refugee Experience
  • Week 5: Conflict and War Affected Youth
  • Week 6: Qualitative/Quantitative Research Techniques
  • Week 7: Topical: Power/Control/ Position in Community Work and Research
  • Week 8: Specialized Trainings: Statistical Software/ Interview techniques
  • Week 9: Literature Review/Publishing
  • Week 10: Student Post Reflection/Synthesis of the summer

Program Evaluation

Each of the program areas described below has a separate evaluation plan. Most of the programs have been developed from the initial needs assessment and are in the pilot program phase. Focus groups will be conducted one year from the implementation of the pilot programs to evaluate the development process and impact of each program. Adjustments will be made and substantial funding will be sought to sustain the programs that have been piloted and proven successful.

Program Outcomes

In Knoxville, HT has developed many projects from its engagement with the Burundian community, based upon the needs identified by the Burundian families themselves, their sponsors, teachers, and Bridge. The key for HT has been to involve the Burundian community and those community members who support them in the planning of programs. One of the central aims for the HT team is the ongoing development and modeling of programs that address needs in the community. This process frames the incremental steps that facilitate change and encourages members of the community to pursue their own agendas for a healthy, sustainable community.

Additional Comments

Program Contact

Christine Tidwell
(865) 974-3103

Program Dates

This program has been operating since January 2008 and is still operating as of October 2011.